Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Final Reflections

On the last day of class, I’ve asked my students to compose a course reflection post. Despite few pitfalls and obstacles, such as trouble with posting working or active links on their blogs, privacy settings in Google Docs, and Blogger service outage on a day our class was conducting a peer reviews of Prof. Vasileiou’s Heroic Choices students’ essays, all of the students concurred that Blogger was a helpful tool. Majority of the students particularly liked the fact that they were able to complete, edit, catch-up, and submit their work via Google Docs and Blogger, respectively, which would not have been as easy in a traditional classroom where hard copies are required. Several students also noted other advantages of Blogger and Google Docs, such as sharing their work with others (classmates and myself, students from other classes, their blog followers), consulting each other’s work, receiving and providing feedback/comments, using almost no paper in the course, and exchanging interesting ideas/information not necessarily related to the course’s theme. As I reviewed these reflections, I realized they echoed those posted by my students last term, Fall I 2010. And while I acknowledge that I must account for a certain margin of bias embedded in my students’ responses-they still have not taken the final exam or learnt their final course grades-I feel that I can say with a certain amount of confidence that over the course of the year, in both of my Blogger courses students, aside from developing their writing skills and learning about masculinities, were successful in establishing and benefiting from a learning community.

After joining the Community 2.0 seminar in Fall I 2010 and having used blogger during that semester for an ENG101 course based around the theme of masculinities, I felt the second time around it would be smooth sailing. For the Spring I 2011 semester I was once again assigned an ENG 101 course, so I decided to continue with the masculinities theme. Also, since the class met on Wednesdays and Fridays, in a smart and computer lab, respectively, having learned my lesson from the previous term, I decided to simplify the design, making the Wednesday the day we would discuss readings and writing strategies, and reserving Friday for composing posts and drafting assignments. Lastly, in an attempt to emphasize the importance of critically reading the assigned articles/chapters and to ensure all students would have something to contribute to the class discussion, I assigned two to three students to post one question about the reading on the class blog by 5 p.m. on Tuesdays. The rest of the students were asked to answer one of the three or two questions posted before Wednesday’s class.( Here I must give credit to my college and graduate school professors who used Blackboard in their courses and used this pre-class meeting response to a question posted by a student technique.) My initial excitement regarding the ingenuity of my master plan was no match for the most common issues such as: students who did not attend the first day of class and missed the explanation of how we would be using blogger in the course and why everyone is required to set up a gmail account before the second class meeting, students who set up blogger using an e-mail other than gmail or did not attend second class meeting and were very confused, students who were unfamiliar or new to using computers, and last, but not least, students becoming easily discouraged and dropping the course, I’m assuming, because all work was required to be completed and submitted via blogger and this combined with lack of computer skills and/or access to internet outside of school became a deal breaker. While I realize I’m stating the obvious here, and all of the above can and do occur in a traditional classroom, I can’t help but wonder if a clearer designation or description next to the course sections provided to students when they register for a course might alleviate this at least to a certain extent. Of course, I should have abandoned the illusion and mantra that I feel most instructors, as well as adults, fall back on regarding all college students being technology knowledgeable and savvy. Although this most likely would not have necessarily made too much of a difference, I think I should have either researched where on LaGuardia Community College campus students can go and get help/tutoring in computer and internet navigation or I should have maybe created or posted short YouTube video tutorials, such as I’ve seen on Ann Matsuuchi’s Internet Research Strategies Ning, on how to use certain blogger features, as maybe this back-up resource would have helped those who missed my  in-class demonstrations or were too shy to admit they needed extra help.

In the process of teaching a writing course using Blogger, I have learned a lot about not only Blogger but I became familiar with other platforms that the Community 2.0ers have introduced and demonstrated during our monthly meetings. Having used Blogger for two semesters, regardless of its quirks and some complex design aspects (i.e. comments which are too long will not post, links posted in the comment box are not active links and one must copy and paste them into a new window, numerous privacy and use settings which I must learn about), I still feel is it a great tool for a writing course. Overall it is very easy to use and I found that having a course blog connected to each student’s individual blog accommodates the instructor’s as well as students’ need for a shared and one’s own space. To use an obvious analogy, my course’s blog functioned as a virtual classroom, but an open one which anyone can visit but only those with a gmail account can participate in discussions by posting comments in response to posts. All of the students were present in the classroom, the course blog, by virtue of being connected via their blogs and being invited to be authors on the class blog. This feature, the blog’s administrator’s ability to invite followers to become contributors or co-authors of the blog is wonderful, as it allows for a more balanced exchange of ideas. It was especially helpful when I connected with Ann Matsuuchi and her Internet Research Ning, as we wanted her students to become research advisers to my students when they were working on the research portion of their research papers. As an author on our class blog, Ann was able to share interesting information with my students about research or upcoming events, http://masculinities-english101.blogspot.com/2011/04/how-do-comic-books-like-gi-joe-reflect.html. Ann and I have tried to establish and foster a similar connection between our classes last semester. Of course the issue of connecting between two different platforms requires putting together directions on how members of one platform join the other and vice versa, and then figuring out how to get students to complete the activity. While Ann made it a required assignment, for her students for review my students’ annotated bibliographies and provide feedback as well as suggest sources, I made this activity count as an extra credit portion of the research paper assignment. Some students did a wonderful job, https://spreadsheets.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Amw0r3ZUhngTdGd0MDl0dmtNQUlFXzd3dVlmUVNBWWc&hl=en_US&authkey=CNCO7skE   and other such as Claudia Gomez aside from getting feedback from Ann’s student, Ramandeep Kaur, http://claudiagee.blogspot.com/2011/04/annotated-bibliography.html#comments began exchanging e-mails with Ann herself, who was kind enough to offer her help to any student who needed it.

The most challenging aspect of teaching a hybrid course was making connections with other classes, and while, as I discussed in the previous paragraph, connecting across two different platforms proves a bit difficult, sometimes it is the nature of the topic which sparks a bit of a debate. My class conducted peer reviews with Dr. Van’s Honors Novel Ning and Prof. Vasileiou’s Heroic Choices blog. Prof. Vasileiou’s students peer reviewed my students’ photo analysis papers earlier in a term, while after both classes watched Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone, my students’ peer reviewed Prof. Vasileiou’s students’ essays on consequentialism. Dr. Van’s students peer reviewed my students’ first drafts of their first research papers for the semester and these were on the topic of masculinity and race. One particular peer review pair, my student, Angela who wrote her paper about African American men and masculinity and Daniel, whom I believe to be a student from Dr. Van’s Honors Novel course, brought forth the issue of whether her paper came off as racist in its portrayal of issues pertaining to how stereotypes regarding African American masculinity, which Manning Marable argues were employed by slave masters to control and dehumanize male slaves impact today’s perceptions of masculinity, http://angela0764.blogspot.com/2011/05/video-of-research-paper-1.html#comments. Following this incident, Dr. X’s post on the Community 2.0 entitled “Advantage of the Hub-and-Spoke Blogs over Centralized Systems such as Ning” sparked a discussion regarding the topic of race and how do we approach it in a classroom. As I reviewed the comments posted by Community 2.0ers and added my own, which unfortunately was erased by Blogger during the May 12 and 13 service outage, I began wondering if I was treading on dangerous ground asking students to read Marable’s “Searching Beyond Stereotypes: The Black Male,” Espiritu’s “All Men Are Not Created Equal: Asian Men in U.S. History” and Zinn’s “Chicano Men and Masculinity,” respond to these, compare and contrast them, as well as research these for an assignment. Would it be better to teach and discuss these issues if the course was not a hybrid one, and students did not post their work on Blogger where others may find it, read it, and perceive it as portraying a certain group of men in a stereotypical manner? To propose an even more extreme hypothetical situation, what if a student wrote and submitted a paper, not via Blogger but as a hard copy, which is clearly racism? Do I demand he or she rewrite the paper? Assign the paper a failing grade? Or do I respond to it as to any other piece of writing with constructive criticism regarding its structure, lack of recognition of research which clearly proves otherwise? I don’t have answers to these questions nor do I suggest there is a right or wrong answers. But one incredibly powerful blog post response to Marable’s reading posted by Deshawn Coy, http://shawnbiggs.blogspot.com/2011/05/blog-post-4-marable.html, makes me think that discussing issues of race, as well as issues of gender, or as my course did, masculinity in relation to gender, sex, race, work, child rearing and friendship, in a classroom is absolutely essential in order to learn and recognize our own misconceptions as well as prompt our students to recognize their own.
Exchanging papers in peer review pairs is a staple activity of writing courses, and Blogger and Google Docs make this much easier, eliminating the issues of obtaining hard copies or hand written copies. But I have been trying to figure out a way how to encourage students to take the peer reviewer’s comments into consideration as well as proofread their own work. Following the first meeting of the Community 2.0 seminar this term, during which Prof. Trapani demonstrated how his business class students, who use Facebook as the course’s platform, posted videos of themselves presenting business proposals, I decided that this was the activity which would solve my how-to-encourage-students-to-proofread-their-work conundrum. As a peer review exercise for the first research paper, I asked each student to post a video of him/her reading his/hers first draft and post this video on his/her blog. Here are two examples: Butoven Mede, http://manonfireup.blogspot.com/2011/05/research-paper-1-video.html , and Glenda Corzantes, http://thoughtsofglenda.blogspot.com/2011/05/video-reading-research-paper.html. Then an assigned peer reviewer would listen/watch the video, and leave comments about the overall organization of ideas and whether these support the thesis. This made the peer review much more fun for the peer reviewers as they got to watch/listen to the recording, rather than just reading the paper, and as they did so, they were able to type comments in the comments box on the author’s blog. Although few students did not complete this activity, and some had trouble accessing recording devices even though I provided a list where they may go on campus to do so based on suggestions from Profsusan and some that did read their papers either too quickly, too quietly, or in a place where outside noise made it difficult to hear, most of those who did post the video found it very helpful as they were able to replay it to themselves and listen for any awkward phrases or subject verb agreement errors.
Aside from connecting with other classes for the purposes of peer review, I decided to make the second research paper a group project. I’ve always been hesitant about making such an important, research and writing intensive assignment a group project, but I’ve heard from Prof. McCormick that it is a great learning experience for the students. As I’m a big proponent of group work and since Blogger and Google Docs, respectively, allows users to communicate with each other and work on documents simultaneously, I was fairly confident that this project would be a success. When students approached me with issues regarding certain members not participating or sharing their assigned part of the project with the rest of the group on time, rather than stepping in and resolving the issues, I followed some of the advice I was given by Prof. Dauz on psychology of group behavior. I told each group to make a decision as a group regarding how to deal with a member who is not participating and/or responding to their e-mails/calls. In the end, all groups did very well with the project, prepared wonderful presentations-skits or power point- and said they enjoyed working in groups because they helped each other out with the MLA documentation format, proofread each other’s work, and met outside of class to work together. Overall, I was very impressed and pleased with the interesting topics (fatherhood, single fathers, gay fathers, bromance/male homosocial bonds), quality of their writing and the students, not only getting to know their classmates better, but successfully dealing and resolving groups’ problems.
Participating in the Community 2.0 seminar and teaching writing courses on Blogger has been a rewarding and fun learning experience. The members of Community 2.0 were wonderful and welcoming when I joined the seminar and provided me with information about several platforms which they had used in their classes. While I think Blogger is great platform for teaching writing, I would encourage any future Community 2.0 participants to research and try out few of the platforms before deciding on the one that is best suited for their subject matter and course objectives. Also, they should keep this in mind when connecting with other classes as this is much easier when those involved use the same platform. Lastly a common platform will also facilitate making any far reaching connections with instructors from other colleges or different countries.

Recognizing the value of communication and networking in our courses as well as the success of our students, I believe that the foundation we have established in Community 2.0 and hybrid courses will continue to grow. While I do believe that classroom interaction between students is indispensible, so is providing them with the tools and skills to connect and collaborate with others. There is much more work to be done in regards to reaching out to other faculty, schools as well as professionals and institutions interested in joining our virtual learning community. I hope that in the future we can establish and foster vertical virtual learning communities which students will join starting in their very first writing or English course and continue to participate in as well as rely on throughout their years in La Guardia Community College, and hopefully even after that when they transfer to four year schools and/or enter the work force. This of course requires time, work and funds to develop and maintain, and I hope we’ll be able to obtain those necessary resources in order to continue this endeavor.


  1. Great idea about adding a note or disclaimer next to networked courses in the catalog, Magda--something like, "computer intensive," maybe? That's definitely something for the leaders to consider as the seminar moves beyond the pilot stage and finds its legs moving forward (possibly easier said than done at LaGuardia, but worth exploring nonetheless!).

  2. You raise some interesting questions about what to do when student comments are unethical, or go "overboard" using negative response. Does that make it more difficult for the student who posted the blog to continue to post? What does happen?